Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Mercy vs. Truth: The mark of hypocrisy

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | May 08, 2018

We get some odd messages in response to our Daily News Headlines and Insights messages; and while it would be wrong to use names without permission, sometimes the comments are too good to pass up. I say this because they are so utterly revealing of the most important problem with religious belief in the modern West.

For example, yesterday our lead headline in the news message was: Dutch cardinal: Pope, German bishops failing to maintain authentic teaching. I’m not sure why some people reply to the news headlines, but they do. In this case, we received the following response:

No—they [the Pope and German bishops] are allowing doctrine and teaching to meet the real needs of God’s people. They are allowing mercy and love to rule rather than calcified rules that harm human beings. It is Mercy God wants—NOT the burnt offerings of hard hearted Pharisees. The days of the Pharisees are over! Mercy and goodness shall rule. Thank God for good Pope Francis!!!!

It is hard to take this as a ringing endorsement of the present Pope, especially since I’m not aware that anyone in recent centuries has called for more burnt offerings (ritual sacrifices rather than the moral sacrifices of the heart). Does our correspondent mean the Church should stop offering the holocaust of Christ’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins? Or simply refuse the recognition and reverence Christ’s Body and Blood demand?

Anyway, I decided to take a chance that the writer might be brought to see the connection between mercy and repentance, so I decided to reply:

Thanks for your note. Unfortunately, mercy cannot reign without repentance and a consequent change in life. And repentance cannot exist without a recognition that we have failed to live in accordance with the will of God.
The fundamental message of Christ is, “Repent and believe the Gospel”. This necessitates a radical change in life. And we have Scripture and the Church to explain what this change of life requires before we can enter into Communion with Our Lord.

Now please consider the response our correspondent sent to this relatively gentle message:

Typical answer from a hard line right wing Pharisee who has no mercy in his heart. If a good holy man like Pope Francis is unable to open your eyes and heart, then there is little hope for you and your ilk.

Now here is my question: Why is it that those who claim to represent God’s mercy to a superior degree so often refuse rational discussion, immediately call names, and then banish those they have named to the outer darkness?

Denying mercy in the name of mercy

The answer, I think, is that people very frequently make up their own religion to suit their own predilections. Moreover, in the modern secular West, a great many of the most common sins are relentlessly defended and encouraged by the dominant culture, as reflected (for example) in universities, media, and government. Taken together, these conditions provide two strong motives for denouncing opponents as beyond the pale (and often, quite literally, as damned).

First, persons with bad consciences typically demonize those who express the truth about their own sins. It is a classic defense mechanism. To understand it, consider John the Evangelist’s words: “For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (Jn 3:20). This is profound psychology. In at least some small matter, every one of us has behaved in exactly this way—whenever we have resisted legitimate correction.

Second, those who lack the personal detachment to stand sufficiently apart from their own culture—to see its weaknesses—become culture-bound, which reduces their moral sense to mere convention. This is as true in a culture which defends bondage to our sexual passions as in a culture which defends the kind of slavery practiced in the United States before the Civil War. Such a person excels at denouncing the evils which the dominant culture abhors, especially past evils, while turning a blind eye to even worse evils today.

Indeed, those who are culture-bound find it very difficult even to conceive of a perspective outside their habitual way of looking at things. It seems obvious to them that anyone who is counter-cultural on key neuralgic points places himself beyond the pale in terms of basic integrity alone. And what delicious targets are made by those who are morally counter-cultural! For they may be attacked without fear of consequences.

Whenever the dominant culture endorses our own moral failings—which is ever the risk of cultural elites and those who aspire to be like them—uncritical acceptance of that culture makes bullies of us all. Spurred by our own personal attachment to sin, we also adopt a vociferous but very safe piety. Finally, this piety leads us to become even worse than bullies. It makes us hypocrites.

And so, in the name of mercy, we condemn any who dare to shine the light of truth.

Next in the “illustrative email” series: Authentic religion: Not what we want, what God has revealed

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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